Here's How Far You Actually Need to Run to Reap the Health Benefits

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Some people run because it's an equipment-free exercise you can do at a relatively low cost. Others run because they enjoy the way their minds and muscles feel when they push them to the limits. But, how far do you need to run to get true benefits from it as a source of exercise? Does a jog around your block give the same perks as a 5-mile run? And do you have to run every day to get those benefits or is once a week okay? Here, we posed those questions to our experts.

Review of Running Perks

A recent review of studies found that to score the major health perks of running, you don’t have to pound the pavement for long: Jogging just five or six miles a week is enough.

The researchers report that people who logged that many miles over the course of one or two runs—and ran that distance in less than 51 cumulative minutes—per week had a lower risk of certain cancers, stroke, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol compared to people who jogged less or not at all.

It gets even better: When the reviewers looked at the effect of running on cardiovascular mortality and death from any cause, they found that the low-mileage group had the same reduction in risk as people who laced up more often and covered more ground every week.

“Maximal health benefits of running appear to occur at quite low doses, well below those suggested by the US physical activity guidelines,” the researchers write in the study, which was published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

Running to Lose Weight

But of course, if you’re running to lose weight, the same logic still applies: More steps means more calories burned. You may want to stick to your usual schedule and route. But for anyone who’s been pushing themself on long-distance jaunts in pursuit of optimal health, the new findings may offer some sweet relief.

So what is a good goal to shoot for, according to science?

Carl J. Lavie, MD, the review’s lead author and the medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, offered this advice to the New York Times: “Running for 20 to 30 minutes, or about a mile-and-a-half to three miles, twice per week would appear to be perfect.”

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  1. Lavie CJ, Lee D chul, Sui X, et al. Effects of running on chronic diseases and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2015;90(11):1541-1552.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2nd ed. Physical activity guidelines for Americans.

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